Heard It on the X

There Is No Such Thing as Nü Metal, and It Has an X-Tremely Funny Face

In light of its 20th anniversary, it would be sheer overkill for me to criticize MTV for all the same reasons that everyone else does. You know the drill: that most of their programming is slapdash, hectic, edited by monkeys, and seemingly held together by Elmer's glue and advertising. That their half-hearted attempts at social responsibility are nullified by softcore kiddie porn and reality-based date-rape primers/how-tos. That their growing library of feature films is on pace to beat the all-time ineptitude records held by Lorne Michaels and National Lampoon. That instead of working with their strengths and building a better cable network, they're busy creating MTV-brand gun-metal mercury desk lamps. That their plan for invigorating youth culture has always been to mimic the colorful palette of Japanese pop commercialism without any of the wit, fashion sense, or anarchy. That their one, true talent of discovering one-hit wonders and novelty acts à la Dr. Demento is overshadowed by their penchant for beating stillborn horses with bad haircuts. I'm not gonna walk down those well-traversed alleyways.

Instead, I'd like to focus on one of the more positive aspects of a network often reviled by even its most faithful demographic (Butterfinger-eating white males aged between two and six in single-parent homes out there somewhere). That is, MTV's, and its sister channel MTV2's, and its hermana channel MTV Spanish's, and—more to the point of this article—its angry lil' brother channel MTV X's ability to unload hour after hour of brain-dead repetitive programming and yet occasionally, accidentally, show some stuff worth watching.

It is this very ability that has kept me tuning in throughout the April Wine years, the Mission U.K. years, the Ned's Atomic Dustbin years, and the Reel Big Fish years. For every 50 airings of Cheyenne's latest drippy canción de amor on MTV Spanish, I get a moment like the other night when they unleashed a Manu Chao rock-block that had me tripping over the divan in an effort to find a blank videotape. This, in fact, has always been MTV's genius: to make people feel like they're missing something if they don't keep their eyes glued to the tube.

Horned beatnik goth geniuses Mudvayne
photo: Greg Watermann
Horned beatnik goth geniuses Mudvayne

I pay $437.50 every month for the right to watch digital cable, and—along with the channels I've mentioned—I get VH1, VH1 Classic, and VH1 Country. Not to mention 30 audio channels, including Musica Latina, Tropical, Mexicana, Tejano, Folklorica, Boleros, Brazilian Pop, and Brazilian Beat! (If you don't have access to any of these, well, what can I say—when has it not sucked being you?) But I find myself drawn to the hard-rock MTV X more than the others for three simple reasons: (1) I'm an idiot. (2) I like to point my finger at the screen and howl at bad rock bands (who I inevitably end up loving—see No. 1). (3) There are no commercials, and I'm a masochist.

MTV X is dominated by that nearly lame horse called, for reasons unknown to me, nü metal. Nü metal isn't really metal, and it's been around for years, so you can understand my confusion. It's just a convenient tag for hard rock that uses metal riffs and crunch, hardcore punk barking, occasional ersatz rapping (although this seems to be disappearing), and occasional new-wave crooning over synths and electronics. The song structures roughly follow the "grrrr/la la la/grrrr/la la la" model. Forefathers of the genre would include Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. The convenient tag, however, may be a bit too convenient, as it tends to lump a lot of groups together, fairly or unfairly, into a category that is all too easy to dismiss and avoid if you happen to despise the two main gods of nü metal, Korn and Limp Bizkit. Just as heavy metal is a tag that many fine groups find stigmatizing, nü metal bands also find . . . no, wait, most of them are pretty lousy.

At this point, I feel I must divulge certain facts before proceeding. I am not 14 years old, and my interest in pro wrestling started to wane around the time that I saw Chief Jay Strongbow best the Iron Sheik in my high school gymnasium. (The chorus of boos that erupted when the Sheik lifted the Iranian flag over his head still reverberates in my ears.) Having said that, there is no one on earth who loves loud, obnoxious rock as much as I do. But having said that, what am I to make of a band like Spineshank and their video for the song "New Disease"? (Disease, sickness, malady, invasive surgical procedures, goo, muck, filth, and icky gunk all being prevalent nü metal themes.)

First of all, why "Spineshank"? Why not just "Spine," or plain old "Shank"? The music strives for such Reznorian anonymity that you begin to think the whole thing was cooked up by some aggro-rock Muzak company looking for video-game, action-flick, and X-game promo dollars. Not to mention that the memory of the video lasts only as long as the video itself. (Luckily, in between the crappy stuff, MTV X throws some BÖC, Joan Jett, or Judas Priest your way. Mostly for kitsch value, I suppose, but it does help to cleanse the palate after watching, say, an extra-long adventure in spine-tingling claymation by prog-plod dorks Tool.)

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